Jesus refers to Himself in Scripture as the Good Shepherd who leads His sheep (John 10). As sheep are commonly considered dumb animals, many characteristics in their behavior give them that connotation. David was a shepherd boy who spent many hours watching them, caring for them, protecting them. It is through his experience with them he penned Psalm 23.
Without a shepherd to lead them to green pastures, sheep will feed upon whatever they can find, including poisonous weeds. They are apt to drink from polluted water when thirsty, picking up internal parasites when not following the shepherd to the still, clean waters. When sheep are “cast down” getting themselves in a position of lying on their backs with their feet in the air unable to roll over and get up, the shepherd is there to restore them back on their feet. Creatures of habit, sheep will follow the same paths causing ruts and overgraze the same pastures turning them into wastelands without a shepherd leading them. It is the shepherd who safely guides the sheep through mountainous passes where danger and death lurk. It is the shepherd’s rod that disciplines the flock and protects them from wild predators, from which they are defenseless. The staff is used to gently prod the sheep from getting too close to the edge of steep cliffs, keep them together moving in the right direction, and reunite separated lambs with their mothers. It is the shepherd who anoints the heads of the sheep with oil to control the flies which aggravate them. When sheep have good pasture, clean water, no fear of predators, are healthy and feel safe, they are able to lie down and not be in want of anything.
Isaiah wrote “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way,” (53:6). The herd mentality of sheep causes them to follow after one another. Without a shepherd to guide them they become scattered and leave the path that has been deemed best to lead them to green pastures, inviting all kinds of disasters upon them. David , with great clarity and an abundance of experience, declared, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” To live a life of peace and contentment, and not be led astray by wandering off on another trail, it is imperative to be led “in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.” For it is only then when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we will fear no evil. His rod and His staff will comfort us.
The Good Shepherd goes before His sheep,
The sheep follow him;
For they know His voice.